Insulation additive drastically boosts performance of power lines
As we increasingly move toward renewable energy sources such as wind turbines, we're going to require the best means possible of relaying electricity from them to our cities. A new cable-insulating material may allow us to do so much more efficiently.
One of the problems with sending electricity through power lines is the fact that the farther the current has to travel, the greater the amount of energy it loses through those lines.
Increasing the voltage helps address this issue, but doing so requires the use of high voltage direct current (HVDC) cables. These have a limiting factor of their own, in that if the voltage is too high, the layer of insulating material within them may rupture.
In an effort to address this issue, scientists at Sweden's Chalmers University looked to a conjugated polymer known as poly(3-hexylthiophene) – or P3HT, for short. The material has previously been utilized in applications ranging from replacement retinas to cheaper and more efficient solar cells.
For the Chalmers study, P3HT was added to the polyethylene that's already used for insulation in HVDC cables, at a ratio of just five parts per million. When the resulting composite material was tested, it was found to have just one third the electrical conductivity of pure polyethylene insulation. And while other additives have previously been explored as a means of reducing conductivity, significantly larger amounts of them have been required.
Although more research is required, the results of the study suggest that HVDC cables incorporating P3HT in their insulation could withstand much higher voltages than is currently possible, further minimizing energy losses in the current they're carrying.
"Our hope is that this study can really open up a new field of research, inspiring other researchers to look into designing and optimizing plastics with advanced electrical properties for energy transport and storage applications," says the lead scientist, Prof. Christian Müller.
The research is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Advanced Materials.
Source: Chalmers University